Issues Index

UP03 pianoFORTE

A dynamic issue When Unknown Public first proposed the idea of pianoFORTE, a loud and soft, black and white issue, we imagined a compilation of extremes, with few ambiguities. Extremes of timbre, volume and attitude battling out their conceptual differences from adjacent tracks on the CD. But like the empty white and black pages that open and close this edition of writeUP, extremes can easily sacrifice expression for effect. So here we have an issue that is full of ambiguities: the tense near-silence of Hansel’s ‘Psychic Music II’; the dazzling stylistic metamorphoses of Maguire’s improvisation; the shimmering polyvitesse of Delbecq’s ‘Le Bateau’. The only link with traditional piano recital may be Usher’s warm, modernist piano study. The title has provoked contributions that are pianoFORTE in the sense that they are quiet and strong, like the heroes of classic Westerns. Creative musicians often have to show great fortitude in their dealings with the world. Despite the dominant presence of the instrument itself, there has been no attempt to create a definitive overview of ‘the piano in the mid-1990s’. There will be time aplenty to return to works for multiple pianos, processed and overdubbed pianos, detuned and retuned pianos, MIDI-linked, sampled and half-prepared pianos. Alquimia, without a keyboard in sight, takes a conception, literally, to its logical conclusion. Steele appropriates some of Nyman’s hammering approach while Michael responds to Jane Campion’s film commission with an uncharacteristic, but cinematically powerful piano solo. His presence in ‘The Piano’, as an unseen 19th century composer, is as wordlessly powerful as Holly Hunter’s. The film also reminds us how bulky and uncooperative an object the piano can be its status as the composer’s favoured sketchpad was not won by ease of transport. These pieces illuminate the use of ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ in a music world where dynamics are an inconvenience. Fitkin’s ‘Loud’, despite its title, is full of shading and subtlety. Montague’s quiet ‘Haiku’ packs a sonic punch as strong as sake. Each recording challenges an aural climate where background music has to keep within a narrow range or risk obliteration, and compressed pop music can sound louder, on a small radio speaker, than the formerly overwhelming dynamic scale of a symphony orchestra. Whether this is dangerous, harmless, good, bad or inevitable is not our immediate concern it’s not a black and white issue. © 1993 JLW